Unprecedented Number of Montanans Defend Common Ground

Dec 17, 2014
Nearly 30 groups and individuals say forest restoration project follows the law and benefits wildlife and rural economies.

Montanans from all walks of life announced today that they will continue to defend a beneficial forest restoration project responding to several groups’ repeated attempts to derail it in court.

Two former Forest Service chiefs, three Montana counties, conservation organizations, the hunting and angling communities, timber industry officials, wildlife biologists, and Montana’s Departments of Natural Resources and Conservation and Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are filing a “friend of the court” brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today to share their perspectives on the collaboratively developed Colt Summit Forest Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project in the Lolo National Forest. Governor Steve Bullock also weighed in supporting this collaborative effort today.

“Colt Summit provides a clear example to Montanans that when communities and interest groups put aside their differences and work together—and the Forest Service listens—together we can deliver great outcomes for both conservation and our rural economy,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock. “Based in sound science, developed through a collaborative process, and supported across the spectrum of interest groups, projects like Colt Summit represent the right path forward for a sustainable Montana economy.”

The Colt Summit project is intended to help lessen the threat of wildfires near Seeley Lake, create jobs and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. It is different from many Forest Service projects that have been challenged in the past because it is a collaborative restoration project, shaped and endorsed by diverse citizen groups who have found common ground to help the Forest Service manage national forest lands to meet multiple needs and support Montana communities.

Local resident and Montana Wilderness Association State Council member, Addrien Marx, has been a business owner in Seeley Lake for more than 30 years and raised a large family between the majestic peaks of the Mission Mountains and the Swan Range. 

“My business and so many others in the Seeley-Swan rely on the effective management of our natural resources,” Marx said. “Both timber harvest and recreation are essential to the economic stability of this valley—present day and long term. After the endless discussions, after the sacrifice of time and energy, and after the painful but essential give and take inherent in such collaboration, I congratulate all those that have worked to provide benefits to all of us that live or travel the Seeley-Swan. As an employer, I am gratified it provides jobs and stability for the economic outlook here. As a grandmother, I am grateful that my grandkids and theirs will be able to enjoy the vast opportunities of our natural landscape.”

Supporters say Colt Summit will help achieve multiple goals from enhancing fish and wildlife habitat and providing community fire safety to creating good jobs and producing some commercial timber.

“Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc. supports the approach used in the Colt Summit stewardship project because all of the interests involved in collaboration through the Lolo Restoration Committee and the SW Crown of the Continent Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project can see some of their key interests implemented on the ground within a very short time frame,” said Gordy Sanders of Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake. “This approach leverages resources to reinvest in our forested ecosystems while benefiting local communities and the workforce.”

Collaboration ensures local voices are heard, improves processes with the Forest Service and Congress to get projects approved and moving more quickly, and leads to solutions that are supported by local citizens and best serve the unique needs of their landscapes.

“The collaborative process used to develop the Colt Summit Forest Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project led to better outcomes for natural resources and the public that uses and enjoys them,” said Tim Love, recently retired ranger for the Seeley Lake Ranger District. “This project will maintain lynx habitat, reduce hazardous fuels by careful thinning, and reduce roads to improve watershed and fishery values and improve grizzly bear habitat.”

Colt Summit would provide conservation benefits as well as economic benefits from timber sales.

“The Colt Summit project will significantly increase the amount of secure lynx and grizzly habitat within an important riparian corridor, remove roads that are sending sediment into a native trout stream, and maintain sufficient cover to allow a variety of wildlife species to continue to move through the area,” said Jay Kolbe, wildlife biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “This project is grounded in good science, thoughtfully planned-out and long overdue."

The Colt Summit project would also use forest thinning to help reduce wildfire risks to nearby communities.

“The Colt Summit project will help reduce the threat and severity of wildfire near the community of Seeley Lake while concurrently improving habitat for fish and wildlife,” said Missoula County Commissioner and Board Chair Jean Curtiss. “The project will also support the local economy, the tourism industry and long-term conservation of natural resources.

The Colt Summit project was temporarily delayed by a lawsuit filed in 2011, but the Forest Service has since prevailed on all counts in district court. Last April, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a new injunction request by the plaintiffs but a final decision is still pending. The Forest Service awarded a contract to Pyramid Mountain Lumber and work began the first week of December, 2014. A final court decision is expected in winter 2015.

“Montana’s elected officials are looking to improve forest management in the next Congress—let’s hope they find a way to incentivize more projects like Colt Summit that are collaboratively  developed, scientifically sound and deliver multiple benefits for the land and people,” said Scott Brennan, Montana State Director for The Wilderness Society.

 

Contacts

Jordan Reeves, (406) 223-6351, jordan_reeves@tws.org

Scott Brennan, (406) 600-7846, scott_brennan@tws.org

Dave Parker, Communications Director, Office of the Governor (406) 444-9844

Jay Kolbe, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, (406) 499-2356

Addrien Marx, Seeley Lake Business Owner, (406) 677-4253

Tim Love, Retired Forest Service District Ranger, (406) 210-6528

Gordy Sanders, Resource Manager, Pyramid Mountain Lumber (406) 239-3145

Jean Curtiss, Missoula County Commissioner, (406) 258-3200

 

Resources

See a statement of support from state wildlife biologist Jay Kolbe attached to this release.

A copy of the brief to be filed today is also attached. Contact Jordan_Reeves@tws.org or Scott_Brennan@tws.org with any questions.

More resources on the Colt Summit project can be found here: https://coltsummit.wordpress.com/

Learn more about collaborative forest management efforts across Montana in the new report, “Collaboration at a Crossroads”: http://wilderness.org/sites/default/files/Collaboration%20at%20a%20Crossroads_FINAL2%5B1%5D.pdf

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The Wilderness Society is the leading wild public lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org

 

Jordan Reeves
(406) 223-6351